New Year’s eve celebration is one of the world’s most awaited annual festivities. It can go from intimate to grandoise in a million different ways from 24 different time zones. On this side of the sphere, I chose to welcome 2017 with stillness in the northern-most province of Thailand–Chiang Rai.
It’s the second time in a row that I’m spending New Year’s in a different country away from home. From a snowy wingding last year in Shirakawago in Japan, this year was a drizzly hush at the clock tower in Chiang Rai town center.
I have no expectations at all as I travel further north from Chiang Mai. Apart from discovering a new Thai province, my goal is dropping the solo-flight mode before the year changes.
Walking down or driving around the streets in a scooter around Chiang Rai, you’ll appreciate the slowness, that rushing in literal and figurative sense is almost unbesought.
For 3 nights, I stayed at BanBan Homestay, a place run by a Belgian-Thai family. They welcome their guest in utmost hospitality especially in this time of the year. A maximum of 4-5 guests can be accommodated in their traditional teakwood Thai house with traditional Thai bathing and toilet facilities. It really was quite an experience! But it was the character of the garden and the togetherness around the bonfire that made the experience distinctly surreal.
The damp and grey weather was a bummer but I managed to visit several attractions around Chiang Rai:
- White Temple or the Wat Rong Khun
It was designed by well-known Thai visual artist and a Chiang Rai local, Chalermchai Kositpipat. The artist built the temple to be a center of learning and meditation and for people to gain benefit from the Buddhist teachings. It is an unconventional and modern temple decorated with silver glittering pieces of mirrors. Every detail of the temple and structures like the bridge of “the cycle of rebirth” and the “Gate of Heaven” carry meaning and encourage the visitor to reflect on the Buddhist teachings that show the way to escape from the worldly temptations, desires and greed and focus on the mind instead.
Notes: The temple is open daily from 8am to 6pm. Admission is 50 Thai Baht per person. Donations for the construction and maintenance of the temple are welcome. Taking photos is not allowed in the main building. Like in any other Thai Temples, please dress appropriately.
2. Baan Dam or Black House
Baan Dam is a private installation space of Thailand’s National Artist Thawan Duchanee. The grounds include nearly 40 small black houses made of different materials like wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in various unique styles and design scattered around the temple area. The cluster of houses accommodates Thawan’s collections of paintings and sculptures. Animal bones, skins, horns, and silver and gold items from around the world are also housed in as these are the artist’s source of inspiration to paint. Several of the houses exhibit Balinese and Burmese architecture and art dating back to the Ayutthaya Period, details are evident in several black house doors.
Notes: It is definitely not a place for animal lovers. As farangs, we paid THB 80 to enter and we were given a small printed painting. It is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
3. Singha Park
This park approximately 15 km outside of town that used to be a private barley farm for the production of Singha beer owned by Boon Rawd Brewery. Since the corporation decided to open the vast land for public back in 2012, it is now an Agro-Tourism destination as majority of the area is still a working farm with fruit orchards and tea plantations as well as some of the original barley fields. The farm is now more famous for its production of oolong tea. The park offers several attractions and activities like cycling, petting animals in the zoo, zip-lining and wall climbing (for certain fees).
Notes: The main part of the park is open daily from 9am to 6pm but restaurants are open til late. Best time to visit is from the cool months of November to February for the blooming season. Every February, the park hosts a Hot-Air Balloon Festival as well.
4. Chiang Rai “Beach”
Keep your expectations low, this place is a popular picnic spot for locals during summer, which lies on the banks of Kok River that flows through the town of Chiang Rai to the Mekong for 130 km long. Sans the actual white sand and waves, this place is reminiscent of Vang Vieng in Laos.
A few bamboo huts and food stalls are lined along the sides of the river. There are also long-tailed boats and cruise from town which travel along the river for a lovely scenery.
5. The Golden Triangle
Lastly and the highlight of my Chiang Rai trip is the Golden Triangle, or the confluence of 3 countries along the Mekong River: Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Historically, this area used to be the core for Opium trade and production in the region. While it seems cool to be in 3 countries at once, this highly touristic destination is considered a huge tourist-trap in northern Thailand, too.
I would’ve wanted to visit the Hall of Opium but it was closed for the Thai holiday. Being one of the best and most interesting museums in all of Thailand, it exhibits the history of opium around the world and in the area, the process of production, the effects of opium smoking, and campaigns to eradicate and substitute the crop. They say that it even has a tiny opium plantation inside.
Notes: The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 8:30 AM until 4:30 PM. Admission fee is at THB 200 for foreigners and THB 150 for locals.
- The Infamous Motorcycle Loop – riding a motorcycle from Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai to Mae Sai or the northern-most tip of Thailand, bordering Myanmar.
- Choui Fong Tea Plantation – Since 1977
- Phu Chi Fa – They say you can see one of the best sunrises from up here.
- Hill Tribes – Karen and Akha tribes
- Hot springs
- Elephant Camps
- Fun fact: There’s a hotel and cafe in-one named “Cabbages & Condom”. We tried to check out it’s cafe but unfortunately, it’s closed. I guess their rooms are the more interesting part, where “sprouts with helmets” are in the right places 😉
How to get there from Chiang Mai:
- Ride the Green Bus at Arcade Bus Terminal 3 – Class A Bus costs 129 Baht and travel time will take +/- 3 hours.
- It is advisable to rent a motorbike to go around as there are no centralized public transportation other than Tuk-Tuk in town.
- There are also direct flights to Chiang Rai from major city points around Thailand via local carriers like AirAsia, Nok Air, Lion Air, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Airways.
Cheers to 2017,